The most interesting aspect of the Cambridge Analytica scandal is not Facebook had our data – we knew that. In 2010, Zuckerberg himself boldly declared: “Privacy is no longer a social norm.” What people are reacting to is Facebook clearly failed to meet minimum standards of privacy. Put simply, Americans had a reasonable right to believe Facebook wouldn’t sell our data to Russian trolls the same way we expect to board a plane without stripping completely naked at security.
The question is: Who gets to define “reasonableness” and when will regulators start to enforce it? (One thing Mark Z. got right this week was to lean into the question about regulation even though his largest shareholders were cringing as he did.) I was truly shocked by what little public outcry there was over the Equifax breach. If a bank had a cybersecurity incident of similar scale people would be marching in the street with pitchforks! My guess is it’s because the average person is unaware of how much data credit bureaus have, and how difficult it is to opt-out. That said, the "democratization of data" is almost as trendy as digital transformation these days, so I wonder: When will there be more scrutiny/enforcement of stated privacy policies, not less; and is anybody in Washington thinking about what it means before the next data breach, not after?
I am most interested in how the privacy conversation evolves with Generation Z in the mix. Three years ago the prevailing belief was they valued “personalization over privacy” but that is changing. According to UK-based Kantar Media’s 2018 Social Media report, those aged 18-to-24 are 22% more likely than the average adult to use ads blockers. This is exemplified by the aliases used to avoid detection on online searches, the ‘rinsta’ (real Instagram accounts) and ‘finsta’ (‘friendly’ or ‘fake’ Instagram accounts), and the use of apps like Vaulty to hide photos and videos.
In addition, Kantar found more than 95 million teenagers are using incognito social networks like Sarahah, Anonyfish and Minds.com, which allow users to express themselves anonymously. In short, it appears our most native of digital natives are finally becoming aware their online footprint could come back to bite them. (The mom in me says they’re simply growing up: age does tend to be sobering!)
How this ends is anybody’s guess. Service providers will have to figure out how to address the privacy demands of multiple generations. This particular Gen X'er believes we’ve been giving our data, unchecked, to the likes of Google, Amazon, and cell phone providers for so long we are well past insisting they be accountable to a minimum set of standards if they want our business (or, in the case of social networks, our eyeballs). Then again, I also happen to think Brad Pitt should be able to have a quiet dinner at a restaurant without being mauled by paparazzi, which my kids say makes me a relic!